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Lucy Ball is a leadership coach and facilitator

Are you a political animal?

Is politics a positive or negative word to you? What does it conjure up? Do you think of yourself as a political animal?

The theme of politics has popped up with three clients this week and I’m very curious about our different perceptions about it. Some seem comfortable with the idea of political savvy and the art of influence. For others the word politics is met with distaste – almost disgust – and seems to challenge strongly held values such as playing with a straight bat or being authentic.

According to a scan of the Chambers Dictionary the original use of the phrase political animal can be traced back to Aristotle and had a very neutral sense, meaning simply one who lives in communities.

The best definition I can come up with for the way politics is showing up in my client group is the art and science of collaborative leadership. It seems to me that once a person reaches any management or leadership position where goals cannot be achieved without resources controlled by others, then politics really begins. Leaders rely on colleagues in a matrix – some of whom who have different objectives, motivations and policies – for their success. These tensions are often deliberately designed in to matrix structures to provoke the right conversations about organisational priorities but for those who feel somehow anti-political this can be a great personal challenge.

It has helped a few of my clients this week to think about the following:

How powerful do I feel amongst my peers and those who I need to influence?

What is my gut reaction to the very ideas of power and politics?

What are my values when it comes to influencing and getting what I want? How can I deal with people who seem to have different values around influencing and getting what they want?

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